Local coaches have voiced their approval of a new initiative launched by the R U OK? organisation, which aims to provide sports coaches with the tools to ensure all members of their sporting community feel safe and supported.
Announced today, the 'Hey Sport, R U OK?' campaign "promotes an R U OK? culture of mutual respect, trust, authenticity and a shared willingness to support those in the grassroots sporting community who might be struggling", the organisation said in a statement.
Local gymnastics coach, Vaughn Edmonds, said the initiative will be particularly important for kids in sport.
"I think it's something that doesn't get focused on as much as it could, because it's not expected for kids to struggle as much as adults," Edmonds said.
"We had such a big disruption with COVID-19 and then we're expected to go back to normal. The kids need a routine and a schedule, it's important for them that things stay as similar as possible."
To that end, Edmonds has taken it slow since his gymnastics school reopened earlier this month, and given his students the opportunity to express their feelings in a safe and supportive environment.
"We've done a lot of talking, there's been a lot of wellness checks and making sure everyone is comfortable being back, that they handled the time of well and that they're not having any issues," he said. "It's about making sure the athletes are okay."
Mental health has been a prevailing issue in Australian sport for some time.
Recently, high-profile cricketers such as Glenn Maxwell, Nic Maddinson, and Will Pucovski all stepped away from the game to deal with mental health issues.
Similar stories have emerged more frequently over the last decade in other sports, with the likes of Adam Goodes and Jake Edwards (AFL), and Dane Gagai and David Shillington (NRL) all detailing their struggles with mental health during their careers.
"Sport can break down barriers, reduce stigma and provide a safe and inclusive environment where everyone can thrive, but for that to happen everyone needs to play their part, none more so than coaches," R U OK CEO Katherine Newton said.
"All the feedback and advice we have listened to points to coaches as having the most influential role in grass roots sport and the opportunity to change lives."
Goulburn Swans coach, Simon Treloar, fully understands the importance of a supportive and open sporting environment.
"It's really important that everyone feels comfortable in their own skin and that they're open about how they're feeling if they've had a rough week," Treloar said.
"That's a good culture that we try to get going at the Swans. One of our players [Andrew Clarke] lost his mum a couple of years ago, and ever since that day I've made sure that anyone who's feeling a bit down or having a rough time that we get around them and make sure they're alright."
The 'Hey Sport, R U OK?' campaign provides coaches with resources to help them spot the signs that someone might be struggling and guides them through what to say and do in the event one of their athletes, players or sporting colleagues is not okay.
Any coaches who are interested in the 'Hey Sport, R U OK?' campaign can download them free. They include a Conversation Guide for Coaches, ten principles of an R U OK? Culture, posters for display in sporting clubs and training facilities, tips on how to ask, "Are you okay?" and what to do next.
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